In House probe, Lao complains about being ‘berated’ in Senate hearings
MANILA, Philippines — Christopher Lao, former head of the Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM), on Monday complained before House lawmakers the treatment he received during the Senate’s investigation into the government’s pandemic-related purchases last year.
According to Lao, the “environment in the Senate” during the probe was “hostile” as the questions were “very misleading.”
Lao was among personalities grilled by senators over the “favored” procurement of allegedly overpriced pandemic response supplies. Being the head of the PS-DBM then the purchases were made, Lao was asked by senators to explain why the government bought “overpriced” face masks and face shields. But he insisted it was the “cheapest” they could find at that time.
“I feel that the environment in the Senate was hostile considering that the questions were very misleading. [It’s] first time in my life being berated as to my person, as to my profession as a lawyer, as to my education, as to my character,” Lao said during a hearing of the House committee on good government and public accountability on Monday.
READ: Ex-DBM exec Lao: ‘Overpriced’ face masks, face shields ‘cheapest’ at the time
READ: Lao admits possible ‘negligence’ in 2020 purchase of masks, shields
“In fact, given the family name, which was passed on to me by my ancestors which I shall pass on to my children has been berated, being called as Lao-lao. Very hostile, it’s my first time even as a lawyer that I’ve been treated that way,” he added.
READ: Lao laments ‘hostile’ Senate probes but veterans recall worse scenarios
On Monday, the House hearing became a venue for Senate resource persons to unload their grievances over how the upper chamber’s blue-ribbon committee was handling its investigation.
Earlier in the hearing, Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. official Krizle Mago backtracked on her damning testimony in the Senate, saying her previous revelations on tampered expiry dates of face shields which seemingly “swindled” the government was a “pressured response.”
READ: Pharmally employee believes firm ‘swindled’ gov’t in delivery of face shields
But senators have refuted Mago’s retraction.
Mago first testified before the Senate blue ribbon committee inquiry on Pharmally’s dealings with the government, which stemmed from a Commission on Audit finding at least P67.32 billion worth of “deficiencies” in the pandemic fund of the Department of Health (DOH) last year.
Prior to breaking contact with the Senate last September 24, Mago told the blue ribbon panel that she was directed to instruct warehouse staff to change the expiration dates on the face shields that were delivered to the DOH.
READ: Senators rebut Mago’s testimony at the House: ‘The greatest pressure is to lie’
Asked by Sagip Partylist Rep. Rodante Marcoleta if he shares the same sentiments as Mago, Lao answered in the affirmative.
“Before the Senate hearings started I was even interviewed by a news agency. I stated…I was very interested in participating to shed light on the circumstance…[but] never in any of my wildest dreams would I foresee how I will be treated in such a hearing,” Lao said.
At this point, Marcoleta pointed out to Lao that he can seek legal remedy to protect him “against the kind of harassment, intimidation or the undue influence you are made to answer under duress.”
“I was of the impression that the intention of the Senate investigation was in aid of legislation and as one of the key personnel who handled the procurement of PPEs (personal protective equipment) and test kits, it was wise that we could shed light on what should be done to make better measures for the succeeding procurement of the country,” Lao said in response.
“But during the first hearing, on the second hearing, things didn’t turn out the way we expected it to….During the Senate investigation, I was threatened all the time by the legislature that I will be cited in contempt,” the former PS-DBM head added.
According to Lao, he did try to seek relief from the courts.
“After the second hearing, I wanted to go to the courts,” said Lao, who is in his residence in Davao.
He noted he was planning to buy a ticket to Manila to “make some arrangements there.”
But afraid that his flying would be perceived as a plan to leave the country, Lao opted to not push through with his plan.
Mago absent as senators pound on PS-DBM ‘favoritism’
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